Volunteer your Raspberry Pi to IBM’s World Community Grid

IBM’s World Community Grid is working with scientists at Scripps Research on computational experiments to help find potential COVID-19 treatments. Anyone with a Raspberry Pi and an internet connection can help.

Why is finding potential treatments for COVID-19 so important?

Scientists all over the globe are working hard to create a vaccine that could help prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, this process is likely to take many months — or possibly even years.

In the meantime, scientists are also searching for potential treatments for the symptoms of COVID-19. A project called OpenPandemics – COVID-19 is one such effort. The project is led by researchers in the Forli Lab at Scripps Research, who are enlisting the help of World Community Grid volunteers.

What is World Community Grid and how does it work? 

World Community Grid is an IBM social responsibility initiative that supports humanitarian scientific research. 

Image text reads: Accelerate research with no investment of time or money. When you become a World Community Grid volunteer, you donate your device's spare computing power to help scientists solve the world's biggest problems in health and sustainability.

As a World Community Grid volunteer, you download a secure software program to your Raspberry Pi, macOS or Windows computer, or Android device. This software program (called BOINC) is used to run World Community Grid projects, and is compatible with the Raspberry Pi OS and most other operating systems. Then, when your device is not using its full power, it automatically runs a simulated experiment in the background that will help predict the effectiveness of a particular chemical compound as a possible treatment for COVID-19. Finally, your device automatically returns the results of the completed simulation and requests the next simulation.

Over the course of the project, volunteers’ devices will run millions of simulations of small molecules interacting with portions of the virus that causes COVID-19. This is a process known as molecular docking, which is the study of how two or more molecules fit together. When a simulated chemical compound fits, or ‘docks’, with a simulation of part of the virus that causes COVID-19, that interaction may point to a potential treatment for the disease.

An image of a calendar with the text: Get results that matter. As a World Community Grid volunteer, your device does research calculations when it's idle, so just by using it as. you do every dat you can help scientists get results in months instead of decades. With your help, they can identify the most important areas to study in the lab, bringing them one step closer to discoveries that save lives and address global problems.

World Community Grid combines the results from your device along with millions of results from other volunteers all over the world and sends them to the Scripps Research team for analysis. While this process doesn’t happen overnight, it accelerates dramatically what would otherwise take many years, or might even be impossible.

OpenPandemics – COVID-19 is the first World Community Grid project to harness the power of Raspberry Pi devices, but the World Community Grid technical team is already working to make other projects available for Raspberry Pi very soon.

Getting ready for future pandemics

Scientists have learned from past outbreaks that pandemics caused by newly emerging pathogens may become more and more common. That’s why OpenPandemics – COVID-19 was designed to be rapidly deployed to fight future diseases, ideally before they reach a critical stage.

A image of a scientist using a microscope. Text reads: Your device could help search for potential treatments for COVID-19. Scientists are using World Community Grid to accelerate the search for treatments to COVIS-19. The tools and techniques the scientists develop to fight COVID-19 could be used in the future by all researchers to help more quickly find treatments for potential pandemics

To help address future pandemics, researchers need access to swift and effective tools that can be deployed very early, as soon as a threatening disease is identified. So, the researchers behind OpenPandemics – COVID-19 are creating a software infrastructure to streamline the process of finding potential treatments for other diseases. And in keeping with World Community Grid’s open data policy, they will make their findings and these tools freely available to the scientific community. 

Join a global community of science supporters

World Community Grid is thrilled to make OpenPandemics – COVID-19 available to everyone who wants to donate computing power from their Raspberry Pi. Every device can play a part in helping the search for COVID-19 treatments. Please join us!


Mike Donovan avatar

I will be setting up one of my 3b’s headless on my network tonight, so it can be accessed by this project. It will be a great way to support a worthy cause, and it won’t cost me a thing. Thanks for publishing this information, and thanks for all the great work you are doing at the foundation!

Martin Angove avatar

Several of the Raspberry Pis that normally do other things at work are now running BOINC and WCG. Another BOINC project that is exploring similar things related to CoVid-19 is Rosetta@home: https://boinc.bakerlab.org/rosetta/
Rosetta has a much heavier memory requirement than WCG and will only (as far as I can tell) run if the Pi is in 64-bit mode. While you can make Rosetta run on 1GB models it takes a bit of doing so Rosetta is better suited to Pis with more 2GB or more of RAM – it works well on the two Pi4s I have in use.
WCG will run happily in 1GB and in 32bit mode – I have it running on a Pi2B.
A Pi isn’t going to be the fastest data crunching device out there, but there could be many, many of them available.

bensimmo avatar

Mikael, that’s exactly why they setup BOINC way back when. To distribute the work between many computers. Everyone chips away at a little bit, adding their contribution.

[email protected] not suitable for part time.crunchers though. The Pi needs to be left on to crunch as the work is only there for a few days before they time out. It need 8hrs to have a go at it (at default)

Gregg Levine avatar

Well one of my Pi will be active by tonight. I don’t know which one, It hasn’t selected itself yet.

Pat avatar

How much data will these processes use? I ask because I live in a rural part of northern Ontario and my internet connection is wireless & data is expensive! Other than that I have a 3B+ that is free most of the time.

Kevin avatar

My Raspberry Pi 3B+ completes about 4 research tasks per day. There is an initial download of around 10MB and an additional download of about 0.2MB per task and an upload of about 0.1 MB per task.

World Community Grid posts their requirements here: https://www.worldcommunitygrid.org/help/viewTopic.do?shortName=minimumreq
Have fun!
– Kevin

Martin Angove avatar

I can’t check my Pis right now but on my AMD Linux machine the BOINC client was about a 350kB download and occupies under 1MB of disc space. The “manager” GUI (which I have not installed on the Pis as they all run headless) was a 750kB download and occupies about 3MB of disc space. World Community Grid is currently using about 135MB of disc space for data.
There is a large download of data once at the beginning of a project, and then “work units” are downloaded individually for processing. Once processing is complete the results are uploaded to the servers. In the case of WCG OpenPandemics the one-time download is about 10MB and each work unit is about 200kB. Results are around 100kB.
The system tries to minimise communications where possible and can cope if an internet connection is “dial up” rather than “always on”.
This has more detail:

Martin Angove avatar

This URL also explains how you can limit the amount of data your computer uses:
If you don’t set a limit then the amount used depends on how quickly the computer processes each work unit which for a Raspberry Pi is “not terribly quickly” :-)

Mikael Bonnier avatar

I now have a Raspberry Pi 4 B 4 GB in a heat sink case dedicated to World Community Grid COVID-19 related research. Unfortunately WiFi doesn’t work through this case, but I use a cable. I also boot the Pi 4 from USB and thus free one SD card for use in other Pi, e.g. Raspberry Pi Zero W.

Mikael Bonnier avatar

Unfortunately my 16 GB USB3 flash drive was destroyed by just normal BOINC use after a few days. Now I configure a 16 GB USB2 flash drive and hope it lasts longer.

Dev avatar

I have been running rossetta since March and accumulated close to 200000 units of credit :) Initially was running on laptops but later installed headless ubuntu 20 LTS server on RaspberriPi 4B and let it running 24×7

Tom avatar

Finally,WCG supports Raspberry Pi!
Several years ago,I tried installing BOINC on my Raspberry Pi,only to find that WCG didn’t support Raspberry Pi

Mikael Bonnier avatar

I now have a Raspberry Pi 4 B 4 GB in a heat sink case dedicated to World Community Grid COVID-19 related research. Unfortunately WiFi doesn’t work through this case, but I use a cable. I also boot the Pi 4 from USB and thus free one SD card for use in other Pi, e.g. Pi Zero W.

Tapas N avatar

Hi, I have a spare RPI 3 the one without wifi and 512 MB of RAM, I am located in India. Can I use this to support the projects.

Elspuddy avatar

iv got all my raspberry pi’s doing rosetta or WCG

Szaja avatar

Question to more advanced users. Does this start in the background at boot or do I need to start the manager manually?

Martin Angove avatar

The “headless” (client only) installations I have done on my Raspberry Pis via apt-get, install as a “service” so will run automatically when the machine boots. You do have to register with a project and then “attach” your client to that project, but once you’ve done that it carries on without fuss.
The installations I have done on my desktop computers, running the GUI BOINC manager, require you to start the manager before the client will run.

Szaja avatar

Thank you.

pakt avatar

I have five Pi4s juggling molecules 24/7 since April for Rosetta@home to help with COVID-19 research. They’re running headless Ubuntu 18.04.4 LTS in modified official Pi cases (a small fan mounted on top and a row of holes in the GPIO side of the case to let the hot air out :))

To answer Szaja’s question: Yes, BOINC does start automatically at boot. Also there are a number of settings available to change processor loading, number of cores to use, etc.

Charlie avatar

I run BOINC and Rosetta@Home on two Pi4 4GBs running permanently. It took a little while to find a stable setup that has a gui as Rosetta is quite resource hungry and it needs Ubuntu to run. I found GNOME and even Lubuntu kept crashing. I installed Ubuntu 20.04 first, then xfce4 desktop using lightdm and xrdp so I can remote in from Windows along with the BOINC client. You’ll need to make sure that suspend and auto screen lock etc. are all disabled if you want to run them permanently. I use the aluminium armour heatsink cases as the pi gets pretty hot. A fancase is better but the noise can be irritating if you work in the same room as the Pis.

Martin Angove avatar

I am running Rosetta (as well as WCG) on a Pi4 2GB and a Pi4 4GB using Raspbian (Raspberry Pi OS), but while WCG is happy with a normal installation, Rosetta needs RasPiOS to be running in 64 bit mode, which is as simple as adding an option to one of the files in the boot partition, sorry I don’t have the details to hand now.

Islam avatar

That would be a great use to my Raspberry Pi that’s always left on standby. Almost at 800k volunteers!

CrispinBasilio avatar

Hi. I have setup 2B, 3B and a 4B 4GB with Boinc on a Raspberry Pi OS. Is it possible for me to install Boinc on Raspberry Pi OS Lite? Currently, I cannot ssh to my 2B even if ssh is enabled. I can ping it but when I try to ssh or vnc into it, it fails. Also nothing is displayed when I tried to connect it to a lcd monitor. 3B and 4B are working fine, though. All Pi’s are using wired connection. thanks.

Alex Bate avatar

Hi there. If you’re having issues with your Raspberry Pi and/or the Raspberry Pi OS, the best place to ask for help would be the Raspberry Pi forums where our engineers lurk in the shadows, waiting to help. They may also have some advise re: BOINC but, if not, that’ll be a question for the BOINC team instead.

CrispinBasilio avatar

I was able to setup all my Pis (2B, 3B and 4B) with Raspberry Pi Lite OS and install Boinc . I can now ssh anytime. :)

Martin Angove avatar

By default, the Raspberry Pi OS comes with ssh disabled, which is a bit of a pain if, like me, you have most of your Pis headless. However, it’s easy to enable ssh by writing a file onto the SD card in another computer. See here:
I have not used full Raspbian or NOOBS for some time, all my Pis are installed with a “lite” version of the OS. BOINC installs nicely on these.

Matha Goram avatar

BOINCmgr Headless mode (via SSH) was not friendly for RPi0 Raspbian Buster Lite and RPi4 Ubuntu 20.04 (64-bit). Is there any documentation on a configuration file that the service, boinc-client, can read during startup to select the project(s) from the World Community Grid. I guess “surrendering” the authentication credentials in a text file would automatically become a prerequisite?

Mikael Bonnier avatar

There are some useful tips about getting BOINC Manager to work remotely. You have to edit a configuration file and set a password. The terminal program boinctui can also be used to control BOINC on remote computers. See this article:

Marcelo Pointner avatar

You can use boinctui for BOINC managing using SSH. You can install it using SUDO APT-GET INSTALL BOINCTUI

Rupert Wilson avatar

Think I may have gotten a little carried away with this I now have 1 x Pi4, 2 x Pi3, 2 x Pi2 and 5 Pi0s and Pi laptop running Boinc/WCG. To be fair the Zeros take a couple of days to run an assignment but it’s better than leaving them idle.

Erwann avatar

I usually manage my crunching machines (PC and RPi) using BoincTasks (https://efmer.com/boinctasks/).
I install boinc on the machine using apt-get. On the RPi, I configure the remote accessibility based on remote_hosts.cfg and gui_rpc_auth.cfg (in /etc/boinc-client).
I install BoincTasks on a Windows machine or on Linux machine with Wine.
After BoincTasks successful installation, I connect to each boinc crunching machine in the network and I can easily manage the machines (attaching projects, suspending / resuming work, …) using BoincTasks.
You don’t need to use boinc with the CLI mode, or to have an installed screen attached to your RPi.

Samuel Breton avatar

Just put several Raspbery Pi (Zero W, 3B+ and a 4b), some old android phones and a laptop on the grid. Time to start crunching!

jhon adam avatar

After BoincTasks successful installation, I connect to each boinc crunching machine in the network and I can easily manage the machines (attaching projects, suspending / resuming work, …) using BoincTasks.

ETRB avatar

What I don’t get is that the software is proprietary, they say on their license that they are not liable for any damage or anything that the software might cause to you and you will not own any patent created with your help.

I would put all my Pi’s to run if the research was open, not only the process, but the result. So anyone could use it and create medicines for all. But no study could be patented to a specific company, as the whole community have helped them to achieve it.

Please, let me know if I got it wrong.

kenonu avatar

sadly no support on raspbian os 64bit
no support for aarch64-unknown-linux-gnu

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